1 Thinking about language, literacy and citizenship

Activity 1: Thinking about language, literacy and citizenship

With a colleague, read Resource 1. You may already be familiar with this document. When you have read it through once, read it again, making notes of your answers to the following questions:

  • What kinds of behaviours would a good citizen demonstrate?
  • In what ways can schools help students to learn to be good citizens?
  • What kinds of language or literacy skills could help students to become good citizens?

Discuss your ideas with your colleague.

Now compare your ideas with ours.

Good citizens:     

  • use their knowledge and skills to contribute to a better community and world
  • are prepared to voice their concerns and propose solutions
  • are thoughtful, inclusive and considerate
  • act in accordance with what they believe.

Schools play a vital role in helping students to become good citizens by providing opportunities for them to:

  • learn how to understand and analyse difficult issues
  • propose solutions that are fair and ethical
  • listen to others
  • respectfully voice their beliefs and concerns
  • interact positively with a diverse group of individuals.

Language and literacy skills can help students to become good citizens by enabling them to:

  • read, understand, analyse and interpret information – whether in the form of images, speech or writing
  • separate facts from opinions
  • collect and evaluate evidence
  • explain, summarise and predict
  • discuss topics, listening to the views of others and expressing their own viewpoints
  • ask questions that elicit sound responses
  • persuade others in an appropriate manner
  • make posters, write letters and design petitions
  • present information to different audiences through images, speech and writing.

Although many citizenship-related topics relate to serious issues, is it still possible to explore them in enjoyable, engaging ways.

You will now read about a teacher who undertook a project on the village community with her class. As you read the case study, think about the language and literacy skills that her students were developing and the aspects of citizenship they were learning about.

Case Study 1: Our village community

Ms Rakshi teaches in a village school in Uttar Pradesh. Here she describes the first of a series of lessons that formed part of a classroom project on the concept of ‘Community’, which she undertook with her Class VI students.

Lesson 1: Thinking about our village community

I introduced the project by asking my students to think about the places and people that made up the village community. To help them, I provided one or two examples of each, such as the temple and the school, along with Mr Rajeshree, the sarapanch, and Mrs Sutapa, the seamstress.

I then organised my students into groups of four to share their ideas. After 15 minutes, I went around the class, inviting a suggestion from each student. As I wrote their contributions on the blackboard, we discussed whether it was better to list the places and people in separate columns or associate the two together.

I then asked the groups to make a community map on the ground in the school yard using stones, sticks, leaves, seeds or anything else they wished to represent its features.

When they had finished, each group presented their map to the rest of the class, describing the locations they had included – such as religious centres, the bazaar, shops, fields, houses and water sources – and referring to some of the people associated with them. This was very interesting, and the maps and descriptions were so varied. I took a photograph of each map with my mobile phone as a record of part of the project.

(Adapted from Malone, 2010)
Figure 1 An example of a community map.

Lesson 2: Living together in a community

The following week I explained that we would be considering the meaning of living in a community. To encourage my students to work with and learn from a range of classmates, I divided them into different groups from those they had worked in before.

I gave each group a large piece of paper on which I had written a single question. Here are the questions I gave them:

  1. What kinds of things do the children do together in our community?
  2. What kinds of things do the women do together in our community?
  3. What kinds of things do the men do together in our community?
  4. What kinds of things are men, women and children involved in together?
  5. How do people in our community help someone who becomes sick?
  6. What do people do in our community when a person dies?

I asked the members of each group to discuss their allocated question for 20 minutes, illustrating their ideas with a picture accompanied by notes.

When the groups had finished, I posted their pictures on the wall. I then asked them to nominate someone from their group to share their ideas with the rest of the class. This generated a very interesting discussion, in which we explored the notion of sub-communities within a larger community, and the nature of the tasks that such sub-communities tend to undertake.

Lesson 3: The advantages and disadvantages of community life

I asked my students to copy out the following questions and make notes of their answers for their homework.

  • What are the advantages of living in a community?
  • What might be the disadvantages?
  • How can people who feel isolated in a community be helped to become more integrated?

The next day, I placed my students in pairs and asked them to discuss their homework with each other. This was followed by a whole-class discussion in which I tried to ensure that those who had not contributed before had a chance to speak.

Figure 2 Pair work in the classroom.

Lesson 4: Community government

We began this lesson by listing of all the people in the village who had responsible positions and considering what their responsibilities were. My students named many different people with different roles, including teachers such as me.

Rather than write up their ideas on the blackboard myself, I invited two volunteers to do so in turn. They were very proud of taking on this task and used their best handwriting in the process. If they made spelling errors, their classmates suggested corrections.

I then divided the class into pairs and gave them 15 minutes to consider two further questions:

  • Who is responsible for seeing that people cooperate in our community?
  • What happens when people disagree about something? Who helps them settle their disputes?

In the whole-class discussion that followed, we talked about the concept of local government as a system that oversees the interests of the community and examined the way in which this worked in our village, along with the processes whereby members of the community took on responsibilities of this kind.

Finally, I encouraged my students to think about what they could do to contribute more actively to the community. I gave them each a strip of paper on which they each wrote a sentence, which they could illustrate if they wished. I then I displayed the sentences on the wall for everyone to see

I had initially been a little nervous as to whether my students would engage with a project on their local community. I need not have worried, however. The topic generated many interesting, thoughtful contributions, some from students who were normally very quiet. I was pleased too at the level of collaboration and respect that was evident in the different pairings and groupings over the four lessons.

Pause for thought

For each of the lessons described above, consider the following questions:

  • What language and literacy skills did Ms Rakshi’s students employ?
  • What aspects of citizenship were her students learning about?
  • Did anything surprise you about the content of the lessons?
  • Are there any ideas that you would take into your own classroom?

Why this approach is important

2 Planning a citizenship project